With most of the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays returning in 2016, will the team see much regression and can they still compete in the AL East?
Much of the Blue Jays offseason has been palatable because of the thought of the 2015 batting lineup returning. We’ve watched the club pull off somewhat underwhelming moves this winter and we gritted our teeth through it all telling ourselves that it’s OK because the offense will more than make up for any shortcomings the pitching staff may present. That is not to say that the 2016 rotation will be terrible. Far from it. But, when your reigning MVP comes out and says that the rotation just needs to be average, expectations cannot be high.
And, Josh Donaldson is right. This group doesn’t need to feature 5 aces. It just needs consistency and health and the ‘All World’ hitting will do the lion’s share of the heavy lifting. At least that is what we’ve been telling ourselves. But, a recent piece from August Fagerstrom of Fangraphs.com shows an interesting look at the expectations for this club in 2016 and it might cause you to think twice.
The basis of Fagerstrom’s piece rests on the difference between teams’ 2015 performance and 2016 Steamer projections. But, he’s focusing on the players that remained with their clubs (keeping status quo is a move, right?) to find out if there might be a drop off in performance. This is an interesting idea and one that yields a rather disappointing picture for the Blue Jays.
Fagerstrom took the 2015 WAR for qualifying players on each team and compared it to the projected WAR for each player, then added up the results to get a team total. It turns out that the Toronto Blue Jays are looking ahead to the worst differential in MLB at about -10. Fagerstrom identifies 5 players who represent the bulk of this projected difference. I’m going to take it a step further and show you more than just those 5 to paint a more full picture. I’m using the same qualifiers that Fagerstrom used (300 plate appearances or 100 innings in 2015).
Josh Donaldson: -2.8
Kevin Pillar: -1.8
Ryan Goins: -1.3
Marco Estrada: -1.3
Edwin Encarnacion: -1.9
Jose Bautista: -0.8
Troy Tulowitzki: +0.8
Chris Colabello: -0.2
Justin Smoak: -0.3
Russell Martin: -0.2
R.A. Dickey: -1.0
Drew Hutchison: -0.7
Given that the Blue Jays’ WAR sat at 39.8 in 2015, which was good for 9th best in MLB, a drop off of 10 WAR would represent significant regression. It would rank them below the Twins and above the Reds (on the 2015 list) and we all know how that went.
This is not to suggest that everything is going to be bad for the 2016 Blue Jays. Heck, Marcus Stroman wasn’t included in this list since he didn’t throw 100 innings in 2015 and he’s set to see an increase (from his 2015 mark of 0.5) of 2.9 WAR. That’ll help tip the balance a bit. But, the focus here really is on the offense.
This exercise does provide some interesting talking points. Fagerstrom points out that it would be silly to expect that Donaldson maintain a nearly 9 win performance. Even with regression, he could still have a fantastic season. As well, Pillar may not be able to keep up the defensive wizardry that pumped his 2015 WAR up to 4.3. So, again a decrease in WAR should not be a surprise.
As for Encarnacion, I’ve already talked about the possibility that, at 33, he may be headed for some regression. The crux of this idea is that he’s seeing a decrease in hard hit balls and wRC+ over the last few seasons. So, if there is to be any difference in WAR next season, we should not be surprised.
So, the logical question that arises is if the 2015 Blue Jays can repeat their success, or if they were just kind of firing on all cylindars at the same time and happened to benefit from a perfect storm of hitting. Can they repeat it in 2016? Many feel like they can. And, until they show that they can’t, you have to expect that they will. But, if you’re looking at Steamer projections (that can be rather harsh), you might have reason to pause.
So, the current belief is that in order for the Blue Jays to succeed in 2016, the offense will carry the pitching; that moves like adding J.A. Happ might be all it takes to contend. And, perhaps the Bringer of Rain is correct in that pitchers can be average because the offense is good enough. But, is good enough good enough?
If you look at the rest of the American League East, you see that all but one of the teams is not seeing much improvement either. The Rays are looking at -3 WAR, the Orioles could see -1 and the Yankees look to break even. The Red Sox, though look to have the 2nd highest increase in WAR with about 7. We can thank the signing of David Price and the trade for Craig Kimbrel for most of that jump. This might very well prove to be nothing of consequence, given that the whole examination above rests on the difference in performance of returning players. But, it could also point to a much improved Boston team that we might want to take seriously in 2016.
The question remains for the Blue Jays: Is good enough good enough?
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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